Two recently launched Wind for Schools projects, in Kansas and Arizona, are helping students at all levels to learn about the value of renewable energy -- and preparing them for engineering jobs in the clean energy industry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Kansas announced last week that four Kansas school districts will each receive $5,000 in funding to install a 1.9-kilowatt wind turbine to educate students on the importance of wind as an alternative energy source and to promote rural jobs for the future.
The four school districts -- Central Plains USD 112, Eudora USD 491, Halstead-Bentley USD 440, and Jefferson West USD 340 -- are participating in Wind Powering America's Wind for Schools project, which is administered by Kansas State University's (KSU's) Wind Applications Center. The KSU Wind Applications Center in Manhattan, Kansas, was one of the first in the United States. Since it started operations in 2007, the Center has deployed turbines at 13 schools in the state, with seven more under development—including the four USDA-funded installations.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Wind Powering America program, based at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., sponsors the Wind for Schools Project. The three primary goals of the project are to:
- Engage rural school teachers and students in wind energy;
- Educate college students in wind energy applications, which will equip engineers for the growing wind industry; and
- Introduce wind energy to rural communities, initiating a discussion of wind energy’s benefits and challenges.
The Wind for Schools project was launched 2005 with a pilot project in Colorado that resulted in one small wind turbine installed in Walsenburg, wind energy curriculum development, and a great deal of enthusiasm for the potential of the program.
Today, the general approach of the Wind for Schools project is to install small wind turbines at host rural elementary and secondary schools while developing Wind Application Centers at higher education institutions. Teacher training and hands-on curricula are implemented at each host school to bring the wind turbine into the classroom through interactive and interschool wind-related research tasks.
The college students at the Wind Application Centers assist in the assessment, design, and installation of the small wind systems at the host schools, acting as wind energy consultants. They also participate in in-class work and other engineering projects in the wind energy field, preparing them to enter the wind workforce once they graduate.
There are now Wind Applications Centers at 11 universities, including University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Northern Arizona University-Flagstaff, Colorado State University-Ft. Collins, Boise State University (Idaho), Kansas State University-Manhattan, Montana State University-Bozeman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Appalachian State University-Boone (North Carolina), Pennsylvania State University-University Park, South Dakota State University-Brookings, and James Madison University-Harrisonburg (Virginia).
A facilitator is appointed at the state level to assist Wind Powering America staff in developing the Wind for Schools project locally. The facilitator's primary responsibility is to identify candidate K-12 host schools and support the project's development by working with the local communities and school administrators. The state facilitator is also responsible for working with Wind Powering America and the Wind Application Center to line up funding and implement each project. The facilitator's role is designed to last about three years, at which point the Wind Application Center assumes the facilitator’s responsibilities. Wind Powering America provides initial funding for the state facilitators.
In addition, in each state, Wind Powering America provides technical and financial assistance to the Wind Application Center and state facilitator over the first few years of the project, including:
- Conducting the annual wind energy applications training program,
- Assisting in the analysis of Wind for School projects,
- Providing analysis models and other tools to support project development,
- Providing turbine installation and commissioning procedures training,
- Providing wind resource assessment equipment,
- Assisting in curricula development for the K-12 schools and the Wind Application Center, and
- Hosting students, professors, and teachers with summer projects at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
"Even smaller projects, such as these four advanced by the wind energy team at Kansas State University, represent an important step in the right direction," said Charles Newcomb, Wind Powering America's Wind for Schools project lead. "Wind energy provides significant jobs and economic development impacts that are realized when the right policies and public support are brought to bear. And, from an industry growth perspective, the lessons that these students are learning by navigating the federal incentive landscape will prove invaluable and relevant as they enter the wind energy workforce as the project developers, analysts, and engineers of tomorrow."
Meanwhile, in Arizona, where the Wind for Schools project began in 2010, since August of this year, Ponderosa High School (PHS) in Flagstaff has been using a new wind turbine along with a photovoltaic system to power the school's off-grid greenhouse, as well as provide real-life project data from which students can learn.
PHS is an alternative high school that helps nontraditional students achieve a high school diploma or a GED. The school's approximately 75 students range in age from 17 to 20, and the majority are Native American or Hispanic, mostly from a lower socioeconomic group.
PHS principal David Ross believes that the wind-and-solar hybrid system presents an opportunity for the Ponderosa students and the school, "We're pretty unique," Ross said. "Part of our responsibility is the County Juvenile Detention Center. We have students who come from there. As part of the transition program, they leave detention and try to get on their feet again, get registered in some classes. Those students have been working at the greenhouse and working hands-on at other parts of the school."
While most schools in the Wind for Schools project employ the Skystream wind turbine, this installation's needs were small enough to utilize a 160-watt Air Breeze turbine. Southwest Windpower donated the turbine, and combined with the solar system, it will power lights, a water pump, and automatic window louvers for the greenhouse.
Northern Arizona University (NAU), home to Arizona's Wind for Schools project, facilitated the turbine installation. NAU assistant professor Allison Kipple worked with her electrical engineering students to help design and install the project. Kipple believes that the hands-on approach is an important experience for the NAU students. The group of 13 was divided into two teams—one working on the solar portion and the other working on the wind energy segment. The NAU students also taught renewable energy concepts to the high school students.
According to Kipple, the interaction between NAU students and high school students began when teachers approached Mansel Nelson, program coordinator at NAU's Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) for renewable energy power generation activities. ITEP, established at NAU in 1992, has an entire program dedicated to environmental education with students in grades K-12. Nelson, whose background is in chemistry and environmental science, hired some of Kipple's students to go to the schools with him and help.
Kipple believes that, because the high school students and the NAU students were almost the same age, this allowed for a level of interaction that may not have otherwise happened. "Mansel and I noticed that the high school students can see themselves in the college students. When Mansel and I went, it was hard for the students to identify with us. He's Native American and I'm female, so maybe they can kind of do that, but when a college student in jeans with holes in them goes out there, they can relate. They look at them and say, 'I can do that.' It seems to be a completely different mindset," Kipple said.
Kipple also thought that the NAU students were able to take something away from the experience.
"I think that my students were re-inspired about their decision to go into engineering," Kipple said. "It's their junior year; they're bogged down in course work. Then the high school students ask them, 'What kind of projects have you done in school?' And we have a lot of design projects, so they talk about that, and the younger students think it's cool. My students seem to get proud and realize what they've accomplished since high school. It kind of makes them re-energized about pursuing engineering," Kipple said.
The PHS installation was not without complications. The most difficult part of the process, according to Kipple, was obtaining the permits for the turbine. Students began working on the permitting process in late March, but due to the late start, the amount of time needed, and the semester ending, Kipple devoted a lot of her time to the task.
Arizona Public Service provided $5,000 for the installation. Minnesota-based NextEra Energy and Arizona- based Prometheus Renewables provided additional support.
With the first installation complete, Arizona's Wind for Schools team is planning more during 2011. Upcoming installation locations include NAU, St. Michael's Indian School, and Williams Unified School District. Arizona is the second of three states in 2011 to install its first Wind for Schools turbine. The first state was Virginia, which deployed the Northumberland Middle School turbine last April. Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf